Stevie Wonder was no longer a teenager when Signed, Sealed & Delivered was released on August 7, 1970. It was a commercial success, as it produced four Top 30 hit singles.
While he still filled out the album with a number of cover songs, Wonder had more control over the recording process by this time, and was able to personally choose songs that would fit his style, rather than be saddled by seemingly random choices by his label. He was also becoming an adept songwriter, and here he co-wrote seven of the 12 tracks.
While the album had some ups and downs, the A-side of the original vinyl release was brilliant and was the equal of anything he would ever release. All four of the hit singles appear in a row. “Never Had A Dream Come True” was a smooth and soulful ballad with prominent keyboards and strings in support. “We Can Work It Out” is one of the more creative Beatles covers you will ever hear, as he changes the phrasing and turns the song into a soul classic. “Heaven Help Us All” was composed by Ron Miller, who was also responsible for such Stevie Wonder hits as “For Once In My Life,” “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” and “A Place In The Sun.” Wonder takes the song in a gospel direction as he interprets the socially conscious lyrics that advocate change.
No matter how good the other three singles might have been, the title song was the highlight of the album. It was the first single release produced solely by Wonder. It garnered him his first Grammy nomination as well. He uses horns and guitars to accentuate his vocal and then fills in the gaps with female backing singers.
His other five original compositions run the gamut from average to very good. All find him exploring different styles and sounds that would become finalized during what is considered his 1970s classic period. His use of keyboards moves in new and sometimes experimental directions, and while not always successful, they show his maturation process was proceeding. The best of the lot was “Anything You Want Me To Do,” which has a memorable melody. On the other hand, songs such as “Something To Say,” “I Gotta Have A Song,” and “Sugar” have an unfinished feel, which would not happen on future albums.
Signed, Sealed & Delivered completed the second stage of Stevie Wonder’s career. He had learned his lessons well and was ready to move on and create some of the most creative and influential albums in American music history.
Article first published as Music Review: Stevie Wonder – Signed, Sealed & Delivered on Blogcritics.